My First Roll on Holga

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Holga, Holga... sweet, sweet Holga. With the level of love I have for these images Holga will be the name of my third child.

I became intruiged by Holga after perusing galleries on Flickr. But just like with most films and cameras that spark an interest, I see forms that compel me, but rarely the content to match. That was how I got started on SX-70 - seeing flowers and adult portraits and thinking, "photographs of children would be incredible in this form." So also with Holga.

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For those new to this camera, it's plastic. It feels like a cloud in your hand. It makes you feel like nothing can possibly be happening when you press the shutter. Which is a loud tink before you manually advance the film. It has less heft than a disposable, if you can picture it. It's called a toy camera for a reason. 

Have you seen that documentary about rock 'n roll with The Edge, Jack White and Jimmy Page? The Edge is the technician; equivalent in photographer terms to the gear-head with eight lenses for photographing the bald eagle that passes over an obscure rock formation 80 miles from his house once a year. It's about the detail. He is master of form. Jimmy Page is the soulful one. Like a traditional, old-school film shooter, he feels the ins and outs in his bones. He understands the blacks and whites, dodging and burning. He is the old dog. And then there's Jack.

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Jack shares a bit about his background (coming from of a family of 10 kids) and how thrift and ingenuity were central to his self-described low-income background in Detroit. It formed in him a passion for sound made on completely elemental objects. Remember making a guitar from string and a tissue box in kindergarten? He's that dude. And as a photographer Jack White would be using old brownies (he probably does), box cameras, and definitely, absolutely a Holga.

Although it does have a few manual controls, its a point and shoot. You the artist are dependent entirely on your eye, your heart and your skill to produce a photograph. There are crude, wonderful symbols atop the lens of one person, three people, a group and a mountain. Hard to mess up. As a maker, I absolutely thrive in these conditions. I love constraint. I love the nausea (yes nausea) of shooting film, especially knowing I only have 12 frames (or 10 in this case, because I accidentally overwound it at the start). 

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I once read in an Instagram post from a mother, "I am proud of how we are raising our kids." The thought was straightforward and beautiful. Pride in her work. I have tried to live in such a way where I can say that phrase to myself at the end of the night. Like life, it waxes, it wanes. I have found the same to be true with my work. But I am aiming for that goal, to be able to say: I am proud of the work I made. I feel that way with this roll, and for that I am grateful.

I took a different approach with this set. I asked a friend if I could photograph her daughter and paid her in flowers and gummy snacks. I made a shot list, half of physical starting points (like hands up or hugging yourself) and half of emotional states (small in a big world, light and shadow). Working this way draws out an entirely different skill set than I ever developed with digital. Of course the great benefit of digital is being able to click away, being highly responsive to your environment almost as though you're shooting video. A blessing and a curse.

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With film I have a different workflow. I intend. The work is not documentary, it is not reactive. It is composed. A specific end is sought. One of my husband and my's favorite movies is Ratatouille (we love animation, okay?) in which the antagonist (a food critic) says, "If I don't love it, I don't swallow." Not only is that a good modus operandi in life generally but is also my filmic philosophy. If the composition is not perfect, I do not press the shutter. Naturally, this causes quality to rise.

I remember watching an interview with well-known wedding photographer Jonas Peterson in which the interviewer asked him, "So what do you shoot for fun?" He replied with a smile, "weddings." I loved that answer! I saw the clip during a time when I was still shooting families on digital, clawing for a justification to keep going when I found it grating at best. I would soon realize that it was because shooting families gave me access to the thing I love to photograph: children.

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During this shoot there was a moment when I saw the light coming through my subject's hair. How can I describe the feeling? If panic were a good thing. Not bliss, not inspiration. A must-move-fast elation. An electricity, a happy panic. Photographing children on film is what gives me this delight. I have been thinking about why. Because of the juxtaposition I think; the innocence of childhood with the grit of film. Their great potential and great vulnerability. And film's tactile, worldly roots. A visual diary of curse and promise.

Do you shoot Holga? As a new convert, I am on fire for it and will try to convince you if you don't. That is, if you like dream-like imagery. If you connect with imperfection, distortion and filmic vignetting. And if you use photography as a portal, not to another world but to the world we know most intimately: feeling. 

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A with love